South African Catamarans
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Last Updated on December 4, 2020 by Amy
We’ve been incredibly happy with our boat, Starry Horizons, a Fountaine Pajot Helia 44, but it is always fun to get a look at other catamarans. We toured a few of the Australian catamaran manufacturers while we were cruising there, and when we found ourselves in South Africa – the country with the second-highest catamaran production in the world, 30% of all cruising catamarans – we took the opportunity to learn more about some of the amazing cats that are built here.
Aside from Leopard, most of the manufacturers are on a boutique level, building cats that are more customized and rolling out just a handful or two a year.
A majority of the cruising boats coming out of South Africa are under the brand of Leopard Catamarans. Manufacturing Leopards in Cape Town, the Robertson & Caine factory produces nearly 200 boats a year between the four factories.
The boats are launched at Royal Cape Yacht Club and then are moved over to the V&A Waterfront Marina. This is where we saw dozens of Leopards come and go – even though we were there over the holidays. The boats line up, waiting for their new owners or waiting to be delivered across the ocean to the Caribbean. One day there was a mass exodus of Leopards heading out to be loaded onto a transport ship.
David and I seriously considered buying a Leopard. We chartered a 39 in the BVIs in 2011 and a 46 in St Martin in 2013. The 46 is an amazing boat, well designed and her layout is holding up well to modern trends. However, when we were in the market for a brand new boat, the 46 production shifted to either a 44 or a 48 with the forward cockpit.
This factory was the one we were most intrigued to visit during our South Africa tour. The Balance Catamarans are built between two different facilities: Nexus Yachts in St Francis and Two Oceans Marine in Cape Town. Nexus builds the larger models and Two Oceans builds the smaller ones, much like Fountaine Pajot has two factories in La Rochelle.
Balance has three main models for the cruiser: the 442, 482, and 526. The 526 is the more “tried and true” of their models, and the production for the 442 and 482 are just getting started. Their previous model, the 451, is being retired.
When we sailed into St Francis, it was for the sole purpose of visiting the Nexus Factory. It also showed us the complete difference between visiting a high-production catamaran factory and visiting a more boutique operation.
We were met at the St Francis Marina by Jonathan Paarman, the Chief of Production at Nexus Yachts. Jonathan took us to the factory and showed us around the models currently in progress. We had just missed the launch of a Balance 526 named Vingilote, so the hulls we saw were not terribly close to the end of the line.
It was really interesting to talk to Jonathan about the different aspects of each boat, and how they are being customized for and with the owners.
We also got to meet Roger Paarman, the Manager at Nexus Yachts, who stopped by to say hello in the marina, and John, who was just a few slips down from us at the dock on a 620 named Lyra Noa. John kindly gave us a tour of his boat, which is flipping gorgeous and incredibly customized. She was launched in May 2019 and has cruised eastern Africa.
Then, when we were in Cape Town, we were picked up by Mark Delany the Managing Director of Balance Cape Town, who took us to see the Two Ocean Marine factory which is building the 442 and 482 models. There was not much to see of the actual boats themselves – although the models were pretty cool – but Mark showed us the design plans and we discussed some of the interesting features they were incorporating into these models.
Duncan Lethbridge founded St Francis Catamarans in 1988 and originally built 44-foot catamarans. Now, they only build a 50-foot model.
We first encountered a St Francis 50 in Palmetto, Florida while we were outfitting Starry Horizons. Rick and Loraine on Aphrodite were outfitting their boat to go cruising with their family of six.
The old St Francis 44 tooling went to a new company called Knysna Yacht Company in 2002. After a few years, they shifted to making a 50-foot model, and now they are coming out with a 55-foot model.
Our friends aboard Catching Up have been cruising their Knysna since she was launched in August of 2018. It was interesting to see three Knysnas in Seychelles – there aren’t that many of them out there!
While at the work dock in the V&A Waterfront, our neighbor was Skylarks, a Maverick 440. Maverick Yachts produces a 40-foot version and a 44-foot version. Skylarks’ owners gave us a tour of their boat, which has some really cool features (I liked the fold-down bed in the main salon and the cockpit table that lifted to the ceiling).
When Dean Catamarans went out of business, the assets were purchased and rebranded as Xquisite Yachts. The design is pretty distinctive with its huge fibergalss arch in the back.
We’d seen one in Nai Harn Bay, Thailand a few years ago, and there was a new one in the V&A Waterfront Marina when we were there. They manufacture one model, an X5.
I don’t like the interior finish of the boat, nor do I like the head design, but it does have some cool features, including a convertible main salon table (coffee to dining) that looks better executed than the Fountain Pajot table, and a proper navigation desk in the main salon.
What’s your favorite?
Balance Cats come with a hefty price tag, but are much more customized and performance oriented. Leopards have a strong hold in the charter and private sector. The rest – boutique boats designed for solid cruising. Which would you choose?
KNYSNA, easily best Blue Water Catamaran for the Money.
They look amazing!
Hi Amy and David.
Great article! We love the information and perspective you guys cram into each video. The “Things I wish I’d known” videos were spot on!
We are taking delivery of a Leopard 50 in a year, and want to outfit it there in Cape Town before we sail North towards the beach bars and rum drinks. We plan on doing the usual: solar, batteries, Balmar, water maker, etc.
Do you think that it will be easy for us to find tradesman, materials, and a slip to accomplish this?
Bill and Denise
Hi Bill and Denise,
There are a lot of skilled craftsman in South Africa, especially Cape Town. The marina in V&A helped us find people, and I’m sure Leopard will help you too!
Knysna is our dream boat, now if only we could find one….
It’s a tough boat market right now!
There are three in prevasa (Greece) right now one is about to go on sail I think…
We loved our Balance 526 s/v Galileo! So glad you had an opportunity to visit the build shop in St Francis. We think the world of the Paarman family. Did you know our first CAT (way back in 2001) was a St Francis 44 – “Independence”. I believe she is still out there somewhere.
Old school Leopard! We have a 2005 47 and absolute love it and wouldn’t change a thing. It’s a tank and has safely take us through some pretty crap conditions.
I don’t like the new Leopard designs though…I dont know which direction we’d go if we were to look at a new boat. Our boat has a lot of life left in her!
Thats great that you love your L47 so much! Its always fun to do a little “window shopping” though, isn’t it?